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Vehicle Telematics: Explained

Ashley Kane

Prepare for the new buzzword. Vehicle telematics are here to stay, and are likely to become more integrated into our everyday lives. Haven’t heard of them? Let us catch you up.

We’ve seen a lot of advancements in car technology over the years and many of those advances are directed towards the goal of constant connectivity. What started with GPS navigational systems has now expanded to include other telematics devices that track how you drive, allow you to unlock your car without a key and have multi-faceted entertainment devices that connect your phone to your vehicle’s dashboard.

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What Are Vehicle Telematics?

Vehicle telematics devices are essentially computers. Telematics include crash-resistant black boxes that receive information wirelessly and then use that information for a variety of purposes. Sometimes, these black boxes include two-way communication. The boxes are usually installed in the car’s onboard diagnostic port and are hidden from view. Others may not require any hardware and can be installed on your phone as mobile apps. As cars grow smarter, there will likely be less installed hardware and more utilization of mobile apps.

How Do Vehicle Telematics Work?

The black boxes and mobile apps sense and transport a large quantity of information. They are typically equipped with four elements: a GPS system, motion sensor, SIM card and computer software. They then send that information wirelessly to wherever it can be analyzed. There is a range of potential for these telematics devices once analytics are brought into the picture.

What Are the Uses?

With all that data, there are many uses for vehicle telematics. Ranging from commercial to personal use, these devices are already being implemented into our everyday lives and there are opportunities for further advancement.

  • Convenience and Entertainment:

Car manufacturers responded to consumers’ requests for telematics devices and they are offering more entertainment services regularly. These telematics devices are used to locate the vehicle, unlock or lock cars and start the engine remotely. The devices rely on cellular signals and send data to their onboard computers. They are also used in Infotainment systems. 

  • Security and Safety:

Vehicle telematics have many roles in the realm of car safety.  With vehicle communication, you can prevent accidents. Anti-lock brakes receive signals from wheel sensors just as airbag detectors sense when a car is suddenly decelerating. Additionally, vehicle diagnostic reports alert a driver when there are serious repairs needed to a vehicle which can help save lives, as can ACN (Automatic Crash Notification), OnStar devices and emergency assistance. Connected vehicles will become more popular in future years as more automation features are added and cars on the road begin to communicate with each other. 

  • Usage-Based Insurance:

Telematics also play a large role in usage-based insurance, which is gaining traction and becoming much more common with various car insurance companies. Usage-based insurance currently has 12 million customers, but it is expected to grow to 142 million customers by 2023. The telematics sensors can track drivers’ habits and behaviors and record that information back to auto insurers to determine rates. Ideally, safe drivers will see a decrease in their premium. Currently, there are various usage-based programs with some programs monitoring how you drive and others that simply track your driving mileage. The differences between pay-how-you-drive, pay-as-you-drive and pay-per-mile can be found here. In future years, there will likely be enhanced offerings that allow drivers to take on more control of their driving information. Drivers may utilize risk marketplaces and decide when to share information with insurers. Carriers may also form new partnerships and discover new sources of data.

  • Navigation

Here’s one telematics use you’ve likely used before. Telematics are used for GPS and other navigation systems. Real-time data allows drivers to cut fuel costs, engine idle time, driving hours and even prevent accidents by warning you with traffic alerts.

  • Vehicle Communication

Vehicle-to-vehicle wireless communication is already in the works for future cars. Also known as V2V technology, vehicles would be able to communicate to each other via radar, lidar, and cameras. The cars would sense when other vehicles are near and alert the driver of lane drifting or other possible collisions. Eventually, the cars may even drive on their own. 

  • Fleet and Commercial Use:

Telematics devices offer applications for fleet and commercial use. With telematics, a commercial fleet can use the data collected to determine optimal routes for truck drivers. They can also cut down driving hours, engine idle time and accidents by large margins. As a result, this helps with fuel consumption and asset utilization.

What’s Next?

In the coming months and years, expect to see more vehicle telematics in use. With business, personal, and safety applications, the industry will continue to expand in multiple directions and the potential applications are exciting. 

Currently, one of the main concerns with telematics is centralized around the issue of privacy. As with most technological advances, people are rightly concerned with how much of their information is being shared without their awareness. Although vehicle telematics are unlikely to go away, most of their integration will remain voluntary for now. If you don’t want your car insurance company to know where you’re driving to or your driving habits, then pay-as-you-drive usage-based insurance may not be for you. You can measure your own skills first with independent, non-carrier-related apps like EverDrive. Over time, independent apps may even allow you to have more control over whether you'd like to share such information with insurers for discounts. 

Another concern involves the safety and security of these devices. Recently, there have been several car hacks through telematics devices, some of which have successfully controlled the car's brakes, wipers and speed from a remote location. Though most of these hacks have been planned demonstrations, they do raise important questions about security holes. Perhaps, the risks need to be asserted before drivers happily agree to have UConnect connected to their local search engine for dashboard access to hotels and shopping. Read the latest updates about car hacking here

Though all of these privacy and security concerns are valid, many see the opportunities for safety protection as remarkable. 

One of the main goals of these devices is to promote safe driving and accident prevention. This goal will likely be met only by sharing a wealth of data. While vehicle telematics may one day assist with autonomous driving, they also plan to be integrated with city agencies. Such communication would have the power to quicken emergency response teams. A sensor could pick up on an accident when a driver slams on the brakes in a collision, and then send that information to local emergency services with an exact location. Furthermore, such information could be made available to the public to help with traffic, navigation, and other alert services. While the emergency and safety services are likely to be more controlled either by automakers or cities, other information will be held in the public domain. Knowing about road conditions on an instantaneous basis would also be helpful for daily life. 

For now, vehicle telematics are available through mobile apps, upgraded vehicles and insurance companies. In the future, expect these options to expand and for more of their functionalities to become standardized in all cars to help drivers stay safe.

Photo credit (top image): Aaron Parecki, Matthew, Wikimedia
Photo credit (in-line): Vectors , Wikimedia